Evan Gaudreau is back with another piece. This time it's not match analysis but his thoughts on the hitting warm-up.
You can check out the podcast I did with Evan here.
The hitting warm-up, by Evan Gaudreau
Generally, in the hitting warm-up, I like a bigger take-back. My right hand is generally around head level. This is just personal preference. It makes the swing a bit longer, and I have to be a little earlier with my backswing so I have time to get the swing going forward and I'm not late on the contact. Hopefully.
And, if I get my racket back early enough, I have more access to spin, power, changing ball flight, and control.
I guess you could say consistency also.
In the case that I am a little late or slow to the ball, I tend to compensate with a little more wrist snap to “catch up” to the ball (Some of these concepts are based on a modern swing and from using modern grips, anywhere from Eastern to Western. If you are holding continental, report yourself to the nearest authorities for a complete make-over. Kidding. If you have a continental grip and run late on the swing, just poke the ball. Don't finish the swing fully (and by running late, I mean, where have you been all these years. We've been waiting for you to modernize your grip. (Ignore this comment!)
If you have used a continental grip for years and years…and if you want to change, I would do it incrementally starting with an Eastern. The tricky part for you is getting used to the racket face moving slightly forward).
Cheating the swing
When I use my wrist, when I'm late on my swing, I call that “cheating” the swing. But this can be helpful too. Think Kyrgios or Fognini or Monfils. All three have exceptional hand speed and can hit “sneaky” winners from anywhere, which is why the top guys despise them in a way. But they feel solace or vindication with their accomplishments (kind of like the YouTubers who have to TELL you their achievements for personal validation. They can't understand why a player trying to improve would listen to an inferior player to them. I used to be like that. Until I got married, had four kids, and grew up and got humble and appreciative of other people).
Man! What a hard lesson that was! And it never stops! I'm still learning and make mistakes all the time!
So, where were we? SLAP!
If my body feels good, meaning I have warmed up and the temperatures are accommodating like I said, I prefer a longer swing. But, if my body is tired, due to stress, or too many hitting privates during the week, I tend to shorten my swing.
I call it a short set. I tend to use this type of swing when I'm tired, but also when I'm hitting on the rise shots and if I notice the balls coming at me quickly. If I'm slightly tired and I try to use my longer swing, it will add more stress to my body. At this point in my life, I do it without thinking.
Habits! And the fact that I have multiple sets on the forehand for different shots and different days. (Does anyone know how to reverse time? Because I would like twenty years of my life back!)
If you are playing a match, start the match right away. Forget the hitting warm-up (just make sure you warm up volleys and serves…or sit at the net the whole time until they say something. Haha. The frustrating part of warming up is when you're hitting with a big hitter or a junior who comes out wailing the ball. They hate that because when you are at the net and they are trying to murder the ball, they generally will make many errors because you are taking time away from them). Some people never learn.
These are the same people who are very opinionated and are “tough” to have discussions with. Generally. Did you do your band work before you warmed up? Me either! I don't always have the time and on occasion, my wrist will bug me. I just ignore the pain, unfortunately. I don't have time for pain. That was hammered into me by a father who didn't want a complaining kid. Probably not the smartest thing to do.
You don't have to do it like me
The funny part is that my body adjusts on its own. My swing tends to shorten when I'm tired and create a bigger loop when I'm fresh. My swing tends to shorten when my timing is “spot on”. Some days, it doesn't need all that excess. This comes with a catch. What I've learned over the years is that for competition, I like a bigger swing. It allows me to drop the backswing and turn the ball over at contact, creating more feel.
For me, remember. You don't have to do it like me. I'm just trying to give you ideas.
We are also a product of who we train with, whether a buddy, a friend, parent, or a coach. For instance, if I train with a professional tour player today, my timing will be slightly off. I would have to get used to their depth and rally pace and play “catch up” on my timing for a few days or a week…or never!
Bangers are at all levels. That's why, growing up, I had a list of different types of players to hit with. Some for practice, some for drilling, some for having fun, others for matchplay that I could work on stuff without the feeling that I would lose, others more equal that I could go “test” game plans on. And the last category was strictly match play to win…I didn't use those players as much. Generally, the hit was tense and the player on the other side was ultra-competitive and could be a shitty line caller…especially on the big points.
I tended to avoid those hits. They took the fun out of playing.
If practice is hard, matches are easy
If you ever feel like an opponent is rushing you or if you know ahead of time you are playing a player like that, have a friend, parent or coach feed topspin feeds (or quick flat feeds) to you so you can work on getting ready faster.
If practice is easy, matches are hard.
If practice is hard, matches are easier.
Hand feeds are too slow and don't give me the same match play speed. For me, they cause wrist aches. I don't like generating my own speed because the ball is never coming that slow in a match. Hand feeds work for beginners or little kids. I know some people will disagree.
To put it simply. If your training is hand feeds and you go to play a match at full speed, the difference in pace will cause injuries. Think batting. If someone gives you underhand feeds in your backyard, you have plenty of time to crack the ball and feel good.
Great! Once the neighbor shows up firing fastballs, you have to activate your muscles faster, causing more stress—kind of like waking up, rolling out of bed and sprinting across the yard. You're going to get hurt.
Continental feeds. I call these “feel- good” feeds. They go right to the same spot every time and right to the sweet spot. Making you feel amazing, like a ball machine, and then when you see different ball flights and different spins, you end up all over the place.
Sometimes, continental feeds are OK. Topspin feeds are a must with more advanced players so that you can vary speed and spin and depth. The teaching pros who don't “evolve” with the game become Dinosaurs. I've been guilty of feeding continental feeds too much also. I'm picking on myself too.
What helped me was the opportunities I have had coaching and playing all over the East Coast. Especially in my apprenticeship phase. When the learning stops, sometimes it's time to move on to a new area, or state, or teaching system. I have had the opportunity to coach at different levels which has helped me see things a little differently. Sometimes, it was eye-opening. To miss something so obvious because I was blinded.
Sometimes it can be frustrating when your belief system gets tested and you realize you were wrong, not the other way around. A lesson I still have trouble with.
Think Tiger Woods.
He has changed his swing multiple times in his career yet has been one of the greatest of all time. Now think Roger Federer. Go on youtube and watch old videos of his matches. His swing has evolved from 2000-to 2005-to 2010 to the present. Check out other players who have had a long career and the swing changes they have made to keep up with the times. Thiem, Shapovalov…now Alcaraz.
When I'm in the hitting warm-up, I'll exaggerate my snap at contact. I'm trying to activate my wrist a little more, which can help with speed and control. Brush-ups at contact are a thing of the past. Once I feel the racket head “throw” out consistently, I start focusing on my finish. Specifically, throwing the right shoulder at the ball.
Think Andrey Rublev. He has a massive right shoulder throw at the contact point. The excess shoulder turn on the modern swing actually has a “wrapping” effect on the swing, giving the ball added control to compensate for the added power. Some days it clicks right away. Some days, I feel as though I can never catch up. But, day 2 is always better than day 1, and so on (when coming from a couple days or a week without hitting).
Again, if you have a continental grip, this will be different. Go seek Rip Van Winkle.
Don't over-focus on the swing
Here's the mistake I think club players and juniors make. They break down the swing too much, into micro swings and focus on 50 million different swing thoughts from all the coaches or youtube videos. If I were to think about all these things while hitting the ball, my head would blow up. POW!
But, You do have to work on these things piece by piece, in a way.
I'll be hitting and I'll see a player hitting with someone on another court and when I watch them swing it's as if their swing is saying, One, Two, Three.
One! “Racket Back.”
Two! “Racket low.”
Three! “Finish the swing.”
I feel bad for these players. I don't know who I would blame for that…but if I had to guess, I would blame it on the “teaching pro” compartmentalizing the swing.
That's why I don't harp on all the little pieces. One focus until you get it. Sometimes, even when I come out to hit during a lesson, I have zero feel, yet I will barely miss a ball, because, over the years, I have learned to “fake It.” That comes from years of hitting and one word. Acceptance.
I say, “OK. Today's going to be a crappy day. Accept and make the best of it.” I'm slightly exaggerating. But the point is…I start to focus on biting the contact point, adding spin, and my timing slowly comes back. I just hope I'm not playing Karue Sell today. He'll whoop my butt. Did you know he was top 400 in the world? He does. Kidding. He reminds me of a younger me. I like his vids, and Essential tennis and others…but I would enjoy to be golfing in my spare time and not watching vids…Masters week coming. That's when life shuts down for me.
Where do my shots go?
So, after I stop thinking about technique in the hitting warm-up…. i'll start focusing on where my ball drops. As a rule that has been ingrained in me, I'll focus on hitting balls past the service line. And with a little flight.
“Three feet above the net,” the pros would say.
Once I'm rallying fine and the feel is there, I'll focus on a pattern. I'll hit the player three forehands and then I'll sneak one over to the backhand. Or two to one. Or four to one.
My hitting partner might not like it, but I'm not telling them what I'm doing. What I'm trying to do is add to my warm-up control. Once I do that, I will start to hit one shot outside the service box and one inside, alternating between the two. And sometimes I'll hit a different combo….like three deep, one a little shorter.
Why? To work on my contact swing break and more control.
Don't tell your hitting partner! This can frustrate them.
Look! I don't do this all the time.
Just when I haven't been hitting for a few days…etc.
OK! I lied! I do this more regularly as a rule. To try to keep my feel and timing. (Sorry if you have hit with me and you are reading this!)
A funny story
I'm going to leave you with a funny story.
When I was coaching at Cornell, I had to hit in occasionally during practice. Sometimes more than I would have liked to. One day I used the drop in the box, drop out of the box warm up.
“How'd you like the warm-up?” I asked the player.
“It felt weird. I felt like I was moving a lot.”
“Maybe because I was alternating hitting in and out of the service box.”
“You jerk,” she said and laughed.
“I was doing partly because I knew I'd have to play points today and partly to see if you were paying attention, which you were not,” I said facetiously.
We both laughed.
When you are warming up, try to incorporate these tips in your warm-up. It will get you in a good habit and you can start the process of combo development.